The direction of North Korea’s nuclear program has been clear for more than a decade, since it first tested a nuclear device in October 2006. But the pace has quickened, with two nuclear tests and tests of several missile platforms that will reduce warning time and extend North Korea’s capability to credibly deliver a nuclear weapon. The North Koreans have insisted that they are a “permanent” nuclear state and have signaled that the United States is their ultimate target, threatening nuclear strikes on the mainland.
The Obama administration’s primary response, termed “strategic patience”, has strengthened deterrence and has led to a series of United Nations sanctions resolutions designed to increase international pressure. The American goal has been to change Kim Jong-un’s strategic calculus by showing him that having nuclear weapons is detrimental to his regime’s survival.